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It Takes Competence to Change! By Paul McNeese

This article is about a subject that few people think of when "change" is mentioned. The topic is COMPETENCE.

Just what does competence have to do with change? A lot! First we'll outline a series of very vital compentences. Then we'll evaluate their relevance.

I can’t discuss competence without involving the ideas of veteran career counselor, lecturer and author Adele Scheele, who is the director of the Career Center at California State University at Northridge (in southern California near Los Angeles). In 1979, in her book called “Skills for Success,” Adele developed a scheme of six competences. The concepts certainly hold up today, and it’s our opinion that they’re vital to your understanding of just how you can profit from change management, particularly – although not exclusively -- in the career and job area. There are six of these competences. Adele Scheele shows each of them as an active verb phrase so as to express how they’re related to the behaviors and attitudes you’ll need to be successful in the new world of rapid change and increasing complexity.

The six competence phrases are:

1. Experience DOING
2. Risk LINKING
3. Show BELONGING
4. Exhibit SPECIALIZING
5. Use CATAPULTING, and
6. Magnify ACCOMPLISHING.

Before we look at each of these in some detail, let me make a distinction between skill and competence. It’s important because a skill may be part of a competence, but a competence isn’t a skill. In fact, the major distinction is that a skill is something one does, while a competence is something one is.

To be able to paint is a competence, and it implies that one knows how to do it and has probably had experience in painting -- or at least has training. But the skill is the act of doing painting...and the degree of skill is a subjective measurement of how well we do it. With that in mind, let’s look at the six critical career competences one at a time and see how each relates to building a basis for career or job change or advancement.

We all do stuff every day. But often we do it on autopilot. This competence - DOING - involves consciously EXPERIENCING DOING - being acutely aware and conscious of our behaviors, the feelings they engender -- or the ones that drive the behaviors.

More importantly, it means making a judgement about all this and changing behaviors when they don’t serve our best interests or fail to lead toward our goals. This could mean doing different things. It could also mean doing the same thing in a different way, or in a different spirit. A simple and small change in the method, the display or the intention can make an enormous difference in the outcome.

A very successful friend of mine, a PhD. psychologist with a flourishing private practice in which she works mostly with artists and entertainers, defines insanity as: “doing the same things over and over, in the very same way, and expecting different results.”

If you want to see how this works, try an experiment with some of your friends or family members. Make some change in your behavior. Because these people are familiar with your habits and patterns, they’ll notice even small differences rather quickly. You’ll be able to tell when this happens. You’ll see it in their eyes. Or they’ll change the way they relate to you (it’s just a response to the change you’ve initiated). The minute you notice this happening, comment on it. Say something like, “Hey, I just noticed something different in you. What’s that all about?” Then shut up and listen. You’ll hear about YOU -- and it’ll be an honest response or comment, because you’ll have caught these people off guard.

Be warned, though, this may create a little tension. People generally don’t like departures from the familiar. It’s a little uncomfortable for them. So be sure to thank them for their comments and express your love or gratitude in some way. That’ll reduce or remove the discomfort, and it’ll open the door for you to experiment further -- in a relatively safe environment -- and to expect honest feedback.

The objective in developing this competence is to expand your behavioral horizons. As you work with this concept, you’ll use it in your business life, in your social life, and in your personal life, because we do tend to become habit-bound, even with the people we care most about. So start thinking about new behaviors...and begin trying them out in small, safe ways. Once you’re comfortable with “experiencing doing,” take it into work or social situations and...

RISK LINKING. Risk? As we’ve all learned in our lives, that’s usually not a comfortable word. Ask yourself these questions, and answer honestly. Do you enjoy taking risks? What kinds of risks do you take? From your answers do you notice that you probably don’t really seem to cotton too much to the idea. Why?

Of course. Risk is an anxiety-ridden process. It makes you uncomfortable. Depending on the degree of risk, it can even make you fearful. Right? So what do we do? NOTHING! We don’t take risks, even little ones...especially with people.

Remember when you asked that first love interest of yours for a date...or got such an invitation? Anxious moment? Well, maybe it was just EXCITING! How many of you can tell the difference between anxiety and excitement? The two emotions are often mixed up in the same situation...you’re anxious about whether you can do whatever it is, or say whatever you must, but you’re excited about the possible successful outcome. But at the same moment you’re worried about perhaps NOT having a successful outcome...Right?

The competence here is to LINK UP with another person or with other people in ways that can further your career goals and job objectives. And that’s not easy. We’ve been conditioned not to risk in this way . Wasn’t it our parents who told us over and over: “Don’t talk to strangers” and “Don’t speak unless you’re spoken to” and “Don’t join unless your invited.” This conditioning often carries over into the workplace. You drive to work alone, speak only to those you have direct business with (other than the “Good mornings”, of course), maybe eat lunch alone, and then drive home at the end of another day. And the chain of command in business makes it risky to reach out, too. After all, the boss is the boss; and you can’t talk to his boss.

Now, I’m not advocating any particular behavior here, I’m just making an observation, and for some of you it’s not the case. It probably isn’t the case for those of you who are already willing to take risks. But in most cases, the risks you‘re able to take with people today came only after you had taken some risks with things and impersonal situations, and had successful outcomes.

Example: High school sports, particularly contact sports, are risky. But it’s been my experience that men and women who participated in sports in high school or college are more outgoing, more willing to risk than the rest of us. Why? Because they’ve faced risk in an impersonal situation -- and often with the full support of an entire team -- and they’ve been successful, which leads them to a higher degree of confidence that success is possible. Ergo, risk is OK.

The next competence -- BELONGING -- has to do, fundamentally, with how you appear to others, based upon how you relate with and to them. The reason we don’t often see this as a competence, much less a career-influencing competence -- or even as a skill or skill-set -- is that we take it for granted that we are, indeed, relating with others and that we belong in the relationship. In other words, we tend to see our relationships from the inside out (us looking at us) rather than from the outside in (as others see us).

To develop this competence, then, we need to get outside of ourselves. We need to suspend our self-judgment and move away from any ego-based appraisals and into an objective (but not self-critical) posture. How to do this? Make a conscious effort to offer praise to a co-worker who’s done something praiseworthy. Send a note; or call and say, “Congratulations.”

Recognize the need every organization has for unity and solidarity, and play to that. After all, it’s part of the job and career game, isn’t it? How many ads have you read that ask for a “team player”? Start being one now. And if you’re not employed at the moment, do the exercise with a church group, a social club, or with your family and friends...use any group and look for ways to contribute to its solidarity. By the way, this might simply be by refraining from being critical, by not carrying gossip or spreading rumors, by respecting confidences, and so forth. The word will soon get around that you’re a real “team player” and can be trusted.

The second component we see is enthusiasm. Be aware that there’s a fine line here. If you’ve been a sourpuss up to now, don’t suddenly get smiley and “rah-rah.” But if you slowly practice supportive behaviors, the picture you present to others will change, and so will their response to you. Finally, there’s support. Ask for it when you need it. People will feel good about giving it, even though they might be reluctant to offer it unbidden. Your asking proves that you value them and the group and that you’re willing to be advised – that you’re teachable.

That doesn’t mean you have to do what they recommend; it only means that you give them the opportunity they really wanted -- to be of assistance, to demonstrate their own “belonging,” and to give support. Look for ways in which to encourage others, then express that encouragement with a word, a call, a note -- sometimes just a glance and a smile will do it. But it’s all part of the game, and it’s a great way to enhance feeling good about yourself The general idea about the next competence – SPECIALIZING -- is that it’s possible -- even likely -- that you have some skill or knowledge that is not directly related to your job but that could help you in the workplace. By discovering, inventing or creating ways of using that “outside” skill in the context of your job, you will create a “value-added” perception of yourself throughout the organization – you’ll become someone “special”. Years ago, when I was working in a large investment advisory firm, my secretary came to me one day with an idea she had for offering local artists a venue for their work by hanging it in our corporate offices, which were visited by many wealthy and influential people. Clearly, her workplace job had nothing at all to do with art, but she is an amateur painter and an accomplished sculptress and potter, so she had a natural interest in art of all kinds.

We wrote a brief proposal, submitted it, and -- lo and behold -- management not only bought it, but they put her in charge of it and paid her a bonus for doing it. The next year, having tested her wings in our organization, she left us to take over as a vendor of art to corporations, and she’s now one of the most successful artist’s representatives in the West, with headquarters in Portland, Oregon and influence in eleven states and Hawaii. She’s admitted to me that all she really wanted was to get a raise and that she couldn’t think of a single way of doing that as a secretary. So she went to her “value-added” skill, art and artistic knowledge, and found a way to relate it to the company.

Take an inventory of your special skills, interests, background and experience -- stuff that doesn’t relate directly to your job. Can you find ways to use those skills at work (clue: it may not be in your job but in somebody else’s).

Also, if you look ahead to your next job or career, you may discover that these skills and interests you don’t consider as job-related may tie in to something you’d like to do rather than to what you’re doing now.

OK. The competence called CATAPULTING is difficult, because you may not be comfortable with what I’m about to say. You see, Catapulting is the competence of allying yourself in some way or other with people who can move you ahead in circumstances where you’d be stalled if left on your own. See? It harks back to “It isn’t what you know, it’s who you know.” And we all know that’s not quite so. But remember, I didn’t ever say that you shouldn’t know -- or even use -- the people who can get you ahead...just that you’d better have the knowledge. And the fact is, one way of using catapulting is to get the knowledge you need from the very people who can help you get ahead.

That’s called “mentoring.” And it’s an honorable, honest and ethical pursuit. For the mentoree, it’s using people in the best sense. It’s giving people who want to help you the opportunity to do so. How you do this is simply to pick out the people you believe could be most helpful. Approach them, tell them what you’d like. Say “please.” Then take their advice, use it, benefit from it, report back to them on how it worked, then say “Thank you.” That’s pretty simple, isn’t it? And it works. It really does. Do you have any problems with all this? One frequently expressed problem is that the people who can help are “above” in the pecking order. You may be reluctant or afraid to ask, or you may feel uncomfortable asking for help from people who seem to be so clearly “superior” to you. Forget it. As long as they’re human, they’re approachable. And what’s the worst thing that could happen? They’d say NO. Well, then, time to move on to someone else who might help and repeat the process. Remember, eventually, someone will say YES. So each time you hear NO, say thank you…and mean it. After all, you’re one NO closer to a YES!!

Finally, now, what will make this all work for you is to let yourself be used in the same way. Let me give you an example…a personal example. I once had a boss who literally trained me to assume his job. He did this with the full knowledge that at some point, if I chose to do so, I could undermine him and perhaps leverage him right out of his position. But he took the risk, and with me it worked. I never even thought of dislodging him. I just saw his generosity as a succession plan for himself. He wanted to give the company the best successor possible, and I was already on the doorstep. I did take over the slot when he moved on, and I kept it for three years. My successor, by the way, was a co-operative education student who came to work for me even before he was through undergraduate college and before I became director of the department. When I got promoted, I talked with him, found that he wanted to be both a journalist and an academician (which was, in essence, what I was), and we decided that he would train to take over. He’s still there -- and has been since 1969, when I left to go into a corporate job in advertising and sales promotion -- where I also stayed for the next 17 years!

So use catapulting. It’s OK, and it’s a great way to smooth the transition from level to level within a company or from job to job within an industry. And note that your mentor doesn’t have to be someone in your company or even in your industry. Use your imagination. Think of all the interesting, influential and powerful people you know…or could know. Then pick some and begin approaching them. Direct contact is always best, but sometimes you can even attract attention with a letter or phone call.

The final competence is ACCOMPLISHING. But more than any of the others, the descriptive verb, MAGNIFY, is what gives it power.

Here’s how to magnify your accomplishments. Think of something you’ve done in your life that you were proud of. Let’s just say that it was organizing a sales meeting for your company. You made or were in charge of all the arrangements -- hotel, meals, conference site, speakers, agenda, travel. And it worked out very well. You may have even received a nice letter from some of the speakers or from your company president, saying how good it was. Now, how could you magnify this (even if you weren’t particularly interested in doing this sort of thing for a living)?

OK, you perhaps could offer to serve on the convention committee of your professional association or society. Don’t belong to one? How about working with your church or synagogue on its annual carnival or picnic or rummage sale or retreat or trip?

What does that have to do with work, career and business? Nothing -- on the surface. But by involving yourself in your community and outside of work you’ll begin to build a reputation that will serve you well on a résumé, could get you recognition at work or in your business or profession, and will give you a great deal of satisfaction.

On the flip side of this, if you’ve developed a skill in the community, you can Exhibit Specialization by finding ways to use that skill at work. Your efforts on a church planning committee could work for you as you serve on your company’s annual picnic committee.

The more of this you can do, the more you’ll be thought of as a leader. And the more you’re thought of as a leader, the more opportunities you’ll have to apply all the other competences and to be seen, recognized, rewarded, renewed and reconstructed. And when the time comes to look for a new job, or to change levels or responsibilities at work, or to face any situation containing change (hence, the possibility of fear), you’ll be ready, willing and able to take on the challenge and to assume the responsibility. It’s a process. It’s called personal growth. And you can do it.

So, here they are again...the Six Critical Career Competences.

Doing, Linking, Belonging, Specializing, Catapulting and Accomplishing. This, in our opinion, is the best model we’ve seen for recognizing, utilizing and profiting from non-technical skills -- COMPETENCES -- or states of being that can propel you to successful job, career and life. We hope you take this with you into your world…that you review it, do it, and report back.

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